Friday, May 10, 2013

100 Years Old-- Happy Birthday, Bestemor

This week my Norwegian grandmother would have turned 100 years old.  Her birthday was May 7, 1913.  I still think about her all the time.
My grandmother, Gyda Kristiansen, around 1928.  I like this period picture of her, and I also own the necklace she is wearing.

My uncle put flowers on her grave for her 100th birthday.

Here is a list of memories I wrote down when she died:

This morning, during the funeral, I thought about those things I found most memorable about Bestemor.

My favorite childhood memory takes place in Norway for Christmas; I believe I was five or six. Bestemor was in the kitchen, making coffee in the same pink kettle, cutting bread ... preparing breakfast. I look out the window, a blanket of snow on the ground, the trees bare. Bestemor tells me to look down, below the window, on the ground. I do. There are two rabbits looking up at us. Bestemor digs in her drawer for day old bread gone hard. She opens the window and throws it out to the bunnies. I am so delighted to see them eat it on the snow. Other mornings it was a squirrel visiting, eating bread.

Bestemor made "traditional" mittens, sweaters, and hats for me my whole life. The last sweater she knit me was around 1995. Whenever I wear one of her sweaters people don't believe a person and not a machine made it. She was that good. She once told me she couldn't remember the first time she knit a sweater. She was five years old or younger. And to her knitting wasn't to be "traditional". She did it because that was who she was, a Norwegian woman in the truest sense. And a strong woman I was proud to know.

I stayed with her the summer of 1988, after graduating from college. I wanted so much to knit like she did. I can still see her face when she asked me in Norwegian, "You mean you never learned to knit? Your father didn't teach you?" It seemed to be a big faux pax that needed remedy immediately, along with my not knowing how to ski. Actually, I had no idea Dad knew how to knit until she told me she used to make him knit for her, and bake "kringlers," too. That seemed a funny image to me.
So that summer I knit my first sweater ever. No fancy patterns, but it did look like a sweater! It was Norwegian red, blue, and white.

Did I say how I got to be there that summer? As a child, Bestemor and Bestefar put money into a savings account for me. The way she explained it was that her other grandchildren were nearby and she'd buy them things occasionally. I wasn't, and so she put money in a bank account so I could one day take the Norwegian course of study at Blindern, the University of Oslo. Even after Bestefar died she continued to put money there, and that summer I was off to study Norwegian. I had three months to know her better than I ever had before.

I learned she loved her garden. I had always admired it because it was so beautiful. It always flowered in a multitude of colors in the summer. She also had strawberries, currants, and all kinds of Norwegian berries I don't know how to name ... And then there was the house she and Bestefar built together.

I can still smell her house. Sometimes I'll be hit with a scent here in the U.S. that
reminds me of it. It all comes back to me-- the small house, the bathroom that
doubles as a shower (and the same towels she's had as long as I can remember), the
sculptures she and Bestefar made years ago (the deer, the old
woman), the clock Bestefar made, the many pictures she had of her family. Oh, I forgot
her sewing machine, her radio, the "old-fashioned" furnace she used. The things that
represented Bestemor to me.

I was always amazed that I could turn around and she would have baked a
kringler, a rhubarb pie, a strawberry cake, a streudel. Just when did she do it? The
birds would have me up in the summer at 4:00 AM, not to mention the sun was already
out. But she wasn't baking even then! During the day she'd work on the garden, mow
the lawn (I couldn't even start a lawn mower). One day, I remember, I came back from
the university to find a new patio with a bench she'd built herself. She'd bought the
lumber and used Bestefar's carpentry shop below the house to cut the wood. She was
always busy. Bestemor was one of those people who "did" things. No fuss, no muss,
as we say here. Get the job done when it needs doing. Mow the lawn, build a patio,
bake a rhubarb pie all in the same day ... that and her famous boiled coffee (make sure
the grounds settle to the bottom of the kettle before you pour it). Oh, I forgot, knit a
sweater, sew a dress, too. And she'd still have time to catch the news or read the

Actually, back to the sewing-- when I was little it was always fun because she'd
make dresses for my doll, too. She was good at that kind of thing. If you were a boy,
she'd take you down to the carpentry shop below the house and make you a wood toy.
I remember my cousin Tord could play for hours with a homemade wooden car.
What am I forgetting? All my life I loved sitting on the swinging terrace furniture.
She had that as long as I can remember. We'd sit out there and have ice cream and
talk on a nice summer day. I can still hear the river running behind the foliage in the
back yard.

Bestemor didn't like fruit. Well, she did, but it was so "dyrt" or expensive. I'd buy
some and her eyes almost always popped out. And she didn't like it that I had "cool"
holes in my jeans once either. Patched them up with her sewing machine, she did. It
made her happy, so why not.

She got to meet her great-grandson. For that I am happy. I have pictures of her
with Kent. I have video of her explaining her pictures in the albums she had. Did you
know the album of her and Bestefar together before they were married was all shot with
a string attached to the camera? They were alone and the cameras back then didn't
have an automatic picture-taking shutter. Bestefar hooked up a string to the shutter and
posed with Bestemor throughout that photo album, all by pulling on a string. Where was
I? Yes, I also have the sweaters she knit, letters she wrote. She was good at writing.
Better than I was.

I tried to get Bestemor's recipes from her, but that was impossible. As she finally explained to me, "I just take a handful of this and a pinch of that. There are no recipes, just the way I've done it since I can remember." And that has stuck with me. I also cook this way. I never follow a recipe, just a handful of that and a pinch of that, and it comes out just fine! Maybe I can pass that on.

These are all just snatches of memories. I'm glad I was able to know what I did about her. But I'll always regret I didn't have the grasp of Norwegian to really talk freely with her. She was always mad about that, too. But at least I knew enough to get by and know her. At least I got to see her often, considering how far apart we were. Especially as an adult I was lucky to see her every couple of years, so I can really remember her. For that I am happy and thankful.

Goodbye my Bestemor; jeg elske deg.